Trajče Nacev The Winery of the Late Antique City of Bargala

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Trajče Nacev
The Winery of the Late Antique City of Bargala

Faculty of Philology

University of Goce Delčev, Štip


1. Introduction

The city of Bargala was founded in the eastern part of modern-day Republic of Macedonia, 17 km in northeastern direction from the modern city of Štip. The city was located at the foot of the Plackovica Mountain and on the right bank of the Kozjačka Reka River. The locals of the near-by village of Goren Kozjak called the site by the name of “Kale.”

R. Grujić1, who wrote on the existence of archaeological remnants, gives the first knowledge about the city; S. Mihailov2 informs us on the church of St. George and I. Venedicov3 reveals the stone block with inscriptions mentioning the city of Bargala. Concerning the contemporary written sources, the Council of Chalcedon’s actae refer to Bargala as the Archbishop See of the Province of Macedonia Prima4 and the Archbishop Dardanius; then in Hierokles’ Synekdemos-by the end of the fifth century AD, Bargala belonged to the Province of Macedonia Secunda5 and the last reference is in the vitae of the 15 Martyrs of Tiberiopolis.6

The Late Antique and Early Christian Centre of Bargala was discovered and located by B. Aleksova in the distant year of 1967, when the first archaeological excavations of the Episcopeum were executed. Since 1995 onwards, the scope of the excavations was widened to include the fortification7 and from 2005 onwards, the excavations of the central area introduced a new cultural horizon with the discovery of the City Basilica8 and a complex of living quarters.

The wine is one of the oldest and most famous alcoholic beverages known to man on the territory of modern-day Republic of Macedonia, as well as to other regions worldwide. The wine production excelled in regions with suitable climate for it.9 The first known wine production comes from Anatolia in the Third Millennium BC10 and during the Early Bronze Age wine was produced in the Tell Ta’annek region in Palestine11. Wine was produced in other regions as well, in a time span ranging from the Iron Age to Late Antiquity.

On the territory of Republic of Macedonia, the oldest stone wine presses (Fig. 1) were found on the site of “Gorno Pole,” near the village of Star Karaorman. Their dating belongs to the Iron Age, in the period between the eight and the sixth century AD.12 Several wine presses carved in bedrock are known from the region of Pelagonia13, as well as two built with masonry-one dated to the Roman Period14 and one belonging to the Late Antiquity15. Two wine presses were found at the site of Stobi, thus they belong in the region of Povardarie (the Valley of Vardar River.)

The wine presses found at the city of Bargala and its winery will be further elaborated in this text and attempts will be made to find the proper analogies among the finds of wine presses and wineries from the Balkans and worldwide.
2. The Winery

The wards used for wine production (Fig. 2) were located in the northeastern wing of the Episcopal Residence’s living quarters. Up to the second half of the sixth century AD, this section belonged to the luxurious complex of the Episcopal Residence. After the frequent raids of the Avars and Slavs in the second half of the sixth century AD, two thirds of these living quarters were converted into a production section, completed with a winery, a glass workshop, a large bread oven, and a horreum (a warehouse with 16 pithoi for grain storage.) Of the luxurious Episcopal Residence, only the main hall with two smaller wards used for preparing and storing food remained, as well as three wards of the northwestern wing, which were used as living qauters.

The winery took three wards of the northeastern wing of Episcopal Residence’s living quarters, with the total surface of 152 m² (See Plan 1.) The wards were rendered successively, due to the production process.

2.1. Ward 1

The ward is rectangular in shape, with dimensions 5.75 x 1.85 m. The ward was built in the middle of the sixth c. AD, with the purpose to receive the grapes after harvesting. The wall dividing Ward 1 and Ward 2 has special openings, used for processing the grapes to the wine presses. The entrance in the ward has not been found and the receiving of the grapes was probably executed over the southeastern wall, which had height of 0.70 m.

The great number of finds of glass fragments introduces the possibility that this ward was multifunctional one-during the specific month of the year, it was used for receiving/storage of grapes, and the rest of the time, it was used as an additional space for the glass workshop,16 probably this was the place used for cooling the glass products.17
2.2. Ward 2

This ward also has a rectangular shape, with the dimensions of 7.15 x 5.75 m. The ward was entered through a porch, with width of 1.50 m. It has two levels; the upper level held the two built-in presses in the southeastern wall, while the lower level held stone vessels for collecting the residue. Only one of these vessels is preserved.

The first press (Fig. 5) has rectangular shape and dimensions of 3.10 x 2.20 x 0.20 m. It was located in the northeastern corner of the ward. The second press (Fig. 6) has the same form and dimensions of 2.60 x 2.40 x 0.20 m and it was located in the southeastern corner. Due to the proximity of the entrance and the lack of space because of it, the second press is 50 cm smaller than the first one. The space between the presses has the dimensions of 2.60 x 1.20 m. The floor of this space was covered with yellowish, compact clay.

The construction method used for the wards is presented on Fig. 7 and Drawing 1. The location of the presses was erected 0, 50 above the floor level, on a previously built substructure with the height of 0, 20 m, made of rough stone connected with mud. Above the substructure, a level of carved stone and lime mortar, with the height of 0.20 m was layered. On this leveled floor, a brick and horasan mortar wall was erected, built with the technique of opus testaceum to the height of 0, 40 m. The presses’ floor is layered with a 0.20 m high substructure of river stone and lime mortar. This served as support for the horasan mortar embedded with floor bricks. The internal walls of the presses were covered with fine horasan mortar. The rear part of the presses’ floor is higher than the frontal one for 0.15 m, thus enabling a slope for better flow of the grape must. Both presses have openings in the frontal walls (Press 1 has an opening in the southeastern corner and Press 2 has an opening in the southwestern corner) to conduct the must through the clay tubes to the stone vessels for collecting the residue. In the middle section of the frontal walls both presses have incised draining canals to conduct greater amounts of must directly to the stone vessels, instead waiting for the must to overflow from the top of the walls.

The walls above the presses were covered with the same, fine-quality horasan mortar as the one used for the internal side of the walls. This was used to preserve the hygiene, to avoid small pieces of mortar to fall during the crushing of the grapes with feet and thus decreasing the quality of the wine. The stone vessels for collecting the residue were located in the lower level of the ward. Only the stone vessel from Press 2 is preserved (Fig. 8), the other is missing. The stone vessels were semi-buried in the floor. This vessel has a semi-circular form, carved in stone with the following dimensions: height is 0.70 m, the diameter of the lip is 1 m, the thickness of the walls is 0.10 m, and the total volume is c. 100 liters.

The floor of the lower level is a dirt one, though I do not exclude the possibility that it was a paved one and the paving stones were re-used after the city was devastated and burned. The walls of this part of the ward were not covered with mortar.
2.3. Ward 3

This ward (See Fig. 9 and Plan 2) is the biggest one, with dimensions: 16.85 x 5.75 m and covers the ground of c. 100 m². The ward was separated in two sections, with a double entrance that had double arches, carried by to built-in columnettes and one central columnette, topped with an Ionian capital. This luxurious entrance belonged to the Episcopal Residence and the same plan was preserved after the adaptation of the ward for the winery’s needs. The ward was entered via a 1.40 m wide porch, almost identical with the one of Ward 1.

The floor of the ward was covered with paving stones and an open drainage runs the whole length of the ward and it adjunct a covered one that ends outside. The ward communicated with Ward 2 through a 1 m wide entrance in the southeastern wall, which built over some in some later period. The southwestern wall also bears marks of interventions. While this ward was still part of the Episcopal Residence, it had two more entrances that communicated directly with the porch, but during the mid-sixth century adaptation they were built over. There was another entrance built over, which communicated directly with the northwestern wing of the living quarters.

The function of this room, as its dimensions confirm it, was for fermentation and brewing of the wine. The drainage was used for washing the big amphorae and vessels used for storing the wine. The section near the northeastern wall was not paved and most probably this was the location for storing the amphorae. During the archaeological excavations, no freestanding artifacts were found. This implies that the winery’s amphorae were moved to a safer location, before the city was burned and devastated.
3. Wine Production Method

In the Antiquity, the wine production was a special skill, composed of three basic steps: crushing the grapes with feet to get the juices, sedimentation to lose the residue and storing the must in pottery vessels where it would ferment due to yeasts and malolactic bacteria, which can be found in grapes themselves. After the three steps of production are completed, the wine was contained amphora-like pots, mostly sealed with lead. Such was the amphora discovered as a stray find near the village of Zagorci.18

The contemporary process of wine making follows the three main steps: crushing the grapes, fermentation (with or without wine yeast) which is executed into special vessels for that purpose only. After the fermentation, which can last from six to nine days, the young wine is collected into inox tanks or large, wooden barrels. The final touches leave the wine free of any residue, and then it is poured in glass bottles.19

The winery of Bargala employed the three steps of wine making, as well. The grapes were stored in Ward 1 and the openings were used to push the grapes into the presses where it was crushed with feet. The must was collected into large, semi-circular stone vessels that held up to 100 liters. After the first sedimentation, the wine was transferred into large pottery vessels into Ward 2, where the wine fermented. Then the wine was stored and kept for trade and consummation in large amphorae, also in Ward 3. So far, analogies for the winery of Bargala as a building complex were not found; the only analogies found concern the wine presses and the stone vessel for collecting residue.

Frankel20 distinguished two types of presses, a typology based on the wine and olive presses discovered in the region of Palestine and their technical and functional features. The simple wine presses with floor for crushing the grapes with feet and a sedimentation vessel belong to the first group. The second group is made of the wine presses floor for crushing the grapes with feet and a sedimentation vessel, and a simple wooden weight for pressing.

The presses from the winery of Bargala belong to the first type according the typology of Frenkel-the simple wine presses floor for crushing the grapes with feet and a sedimentation vessel. On the base of the technical and functional features, closer analogies from the Republic of Macedonia can be found among the wine presses from Stobi21, the press from Pelagonia22, the presses from Italy23, as well as the wine presses carved in bedrock from Anatolia, in the regions of: Western Phrygia24, Lycia, Cilicia, and Caria25, Palestine26 and many other locations.

The discovered wine presses in the middle stream region of the Bregalnica River, on the sites of Gorno Pole, the large wine amphora found near the village of Zagorci, and above all, the building complex in Bargala, purposed for production, storage and wine trade indicates an organized, local production; not a local or individual wine production.

One can argue that the region of Bregalnica was involved with the cultivation of grapevines and wine making since the Iron Age (eight-sixth c. AD) and it was a tradition carried well into the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Today, this region continues this tradition in growing grapevines in the very vicinity of the abovementioned sites of Bargala and Gorno Pole, as well as near the villages of Gorni Balvan, Dolni Balvan, Tri Češmi and Zagorci. The region has several renowned wineries: Zik Crvena Zvezda27, Imako, Anevski and Bovin.


Алексова, Б. (1967): Баргала: Брегалница во светлината на новите археолошки истражу вања, Скопје. [Aleksova, B. (1967): Bargala: Bregalnica in the Light of the New Archaeological Research, Skopje.]

Diler, A. (1994): Akdeniz Boglesi Antik Cag Zeytinyagi Islikeri, Arastana Sonuklarn Toplantist, Ankara.

Frankel, R. (1999): Wine and Oil Production in Antiquity in Israel and other Mediterranean Countries, Sheffield.

Gorny, R. L. (1996): “Viticulture and Ancient Anatolia,” 133-174. In McGovern, P.E. et al (eds.): The Origins and Ancient History of Wine, Australia.

Кепеска, Л. & Кепески, К. (2006): “Доцноантичката населба Трпчева Црква,Folia Archaeologica Balkanica I, 425-438. [Kepeska, L. & Kepeski, K. (2006): “Trpčeva Crkva-a Settlement of the Late Antiquity,” Folia Archaeologica Balkanica I, 425-438.]

Lapp, P. (1969): “The 1968 Excavations at Tell Ta’annack,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 195, 2-49.

Михајлов, С. (1949): Козяк, Брегалнишката епархија, София. [ Mihajlov, S. (1949): Kozjak, the Archbishopric of Bregalnica, Sofia.]

Миткоски, А. (1998): “Старите винарии од прилепскиот крај,” Македонско наследство 6, 31-41. [Mitkoski, A. (1998): “The Ancient Wineries in the Region of Prilep,” Macedonian Heritage 6, 31-41.]

Нацев, Т. (2008): Доцноантичкиот град Баргала, Штип. [Nacev, T. (2008): The Late Antique City of Bargala, Štip.]

Нацев, Т. & Фрков, Ј. (2009): “Археолошко, архитектонско истражување и реконструкција на градска ранохристијанска базилика во градот Баргала,” Македонско наследство 34-35, 157-172. [Nacev, T. & Frkov, J. (2009): “The Archaeological, Architectual Research and Reconstruction of the Early Christian City Basilica of Bargala, Macedonian Heritage 34-35, 157-172.]

Папазоглу, Ф. (1957): Македонски градови у римско доба, Скопје. [Papazoglu, F. (1957): Macedonian Cities in the Roman Era, Skopje.]

Rossiter, J.J. (1981): “Wine and Oil Processing at Roman Farms in Italy,” Phoenix Vol. 35, N°4, 345-361.

Sivas, T.T. (2003): “Wine Presses of Western Phrygia,”1-18. In Tsetskhladze, G.R. (ed.) Ancient West and East Vol.2, N°1, Leiden.

Венедиков, И. (1948): Баргала, Раскопки и проучвания, София. [ Venedikov, I. (1948): Bargala, Excavations and Research, Sofia.]


Fig.1 Wine press carved in bedrock, from the site of Gorno Pole, near the village Star Karaorman

Fig.2 The winery of Bargala

Fig. 3 Ward 1

Fig.4 Ward 2, the wine presses

Fig. 5 Wine Press 1

Fig. 6. Wine Press 2

Fig. 7 Substructure of the wine presses

Fig. 8 Sedimentation vessel

Fig. 10 Wine amphorae found near the village of Zagorci

1 Грујиħ, 1955: 212-215

2 Михајлов, 1949: 4-19

3 Венедиков, 1943: 4-19

4 Ibid., 1948: 82

5 Папазоглу, 1957: 256

6 Алексова, 1967: 74-83

7 Нацев, 2008: 40-63 

8 Нацев и Фрков, 2009:157-172

9 The grapevines do not require a specific soil as they require a climate with hot summers and frigid winters. The modern-day Republic of Macedonia has several renowned wine regions: the valley of the Vardar River, the region of Tikveš and the middle stream region of the Bregalnica River, where the Late Antique city of Bargala was situated.

10 Gorny, 1996: 133-171

11 Lapp, 1969:12

12 The stone wine presses were discovered by the colleague Mitko Šterjov in 2007, during the project for protective archaeological excavations on the sites endangered by the construction of the water supply system “Zletovica.” These stone wine presses are not published before and they are still subjected to scientific research.

13 Миткоски, 1998: 31-41

14 Кепески, 1976: 143-157

15 Кепеска & Кепески, 2006: 425-439

16 The wards for wine production were found during the archaeological excavations of 2007-2010, under the supervision of Trajče Nacev.

17 The glass workshop was situated in the ground-level rooms of Tower 7, which flanks Ward 1.

18 This amphora is a private property and I would like to express my gratitude to its owner, Mr. Risto Stojanov, for the kindly given information.

19 I would like to express my gratitude to the employees of the Bovin Winery in Negotino, for their information on the modern wine producing techniques.

20 Frankel, 1999: 145 -149

21 The Director of the site, Silvana Blaževska (MA), informed me on the existence of such presses in Stobi. The two presses are not completely discovered, though the current state betrays remarkable resemblance with the presses from Bargala.

22 Кепеска & Кепески, 2006: 425-439

23 Rossiter, 1981: 345-361

24 Sivas, 2003: 11-16

25 Diler, 1994: 505-520

26 Frankel, 1999: 51-59

27 Unfortunately, this winery met its demise during the last decades of the 20th century. Yet, due its high-quality production and the most famous wine, bearing the name of another Classical city, Astibo, I feel obliged to include it.

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